Saturday, October 31, 2009

Koppenbergcross - Behind the Scenes

Just in case you didnt read my article that was recently posted on CYCLOCROSS Magazine, CLICK HERE to read.
It contains a lot of history, funny stories and interesting info. 

As for my whereabouts, i have been lying low for the last week. Training hard, resting hard, eating well.  In fact, i have been eating very well!  I made vegetarian lasagna,  lebanese wraps, thai-inspired stew of sweet potatoes, chick peas, tomatoes and peanut butter, and lastly banana-banana bread.

I was supposed to go to Germany for a race this Sunday but it looked as though Jonas was about to get really sick so we canceled.  Eight hours of driving in one day is a bit much when you're possibly fighting a bug.  I think he may be in the clear - lucked out with only one couch day, but the prude decision to race locally seems best.  Instead i am racing in my local woods of Kortenberg - ten minutes away by bike. It will be with the boys - or rather men since they are either over 40 or over 50, depending on what category they place me in.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Koppenbergcross Report

My Koppenberg Race Report is published on CYCLOCROSS MAG ! CLICK HERE TO SEE IT WITH PHOTOS.  You can also CLICK HERE TO SUBSCRIBE to the magazine. 
Or you can read just the text for the article below.

Koppenbergcross - Racing Is Only Half the Fun! - A Column by Christine Vardaros

October 28th, 2009 Filed Under rider diary

by Christine Vardaros

If I were allowed to put only one race on my “to-do list”, Koppenbergcross would be the one! It has all the elements of my theoretically perfect cross event. The course contains a climb on the world’s most famous cobbles, plows down a technical switchback descent, and comes lined with 20,000 screaming, cowbell-ringing, horn-blowing fans to take the enthusiasm way past any imaginable level. It also has a long, colorful history (see my profile of Koppenbergcross and its promoters).

But now that the race is over, I can’t stop running the day’s events through my head to make sense of my botched start to the race. For the first two laps, I pedaled solidly backwards at mach speed, straight into 25th place. I know it wasn’t my tire pressure since that was approved by none other than Richard Groenendaal just before the race!

But then something clicked and I started to ride - in the forward direction! For the last four laps, I got faster and faster, gradually passing gals, one by one. As I crossed the finish line with two laps to go, I heard the announcer talking about me. He said that my motto was “Ik kan het doen” which means “I can do it”. “Yeah, why not,” I thought to myself.

By the end, I crossed the finish line in 16th. Not a stellar result, but I must admit that the sensations I had on the last lap - it felt like I had wings - made it all worthwhile. People are always surprised when I tell them that, aside from alcohol, I’ve never taken any recreational drugs. Frankly I can’t imagine any drug could compare to the feeling of dancing on the pedals.

Racing at Koppenbergcross is only half the excitement. The other half is watching the men race and, of course, socializing. Before my race, two Americans living in Paris came by for a visit. It’s always fun to meet Americans across the world. Even when there is nothing else in common, just speaking American can be enough of a treat for me. And directly after the race I was given an extra serving of America-speak when Dan Seaton and his wife Mindi Wisman swung by our van while I was cooling down on the trainer.

After my little spin and a rinse-off, Jonas and I headed over to watch the men’s event. Luckily we arrived when Sven Nys was in the front group, since the lap previous he was a few seconds behind the leaders. It would have broken my heart to see that. Like most of the spectators, I was there to cheer Sven on for his seventh Koppenbergcross victory. Every lap, I yelled for my favorites including Sven, Zdenek Stybar, Erwin Vervecken, Jonathan Page, Eddy van Ijzendoorn, Bart Aernauts, Christian Heule, Tom van den Bosch, and Rob Peeters. There were others I didn’t get to cheer for as much as I’d like since they all came by me so fast, I could only get one or two names out per group of riders before they were out of earshot.

Of all my loud American-accented cheers, the one that got the most attention from the other spectators was my custom one “Allez Chickendis” for Holland’s Eddy van Ijzendoorn who races for AA Drink. I started calling him that after reading all his Chickendis Restaurant posts on facebook.

Chickendis is his favorite food joint in Spain. And every time he’s in the country, he reports back to his Facebook friends on every one of his three square meals a day - with photos. A bunch of us who are Facebook friends with him got such a kick out of his updates that we started looking forward to them, like a cult following. They really showed a “fun personality” side of him that fans never see. Once I explain this story to the various groups of inquiring spectators, they always laugh and instantly adore him, becoming fans themselves.
After witnessing Sven pull into the finishing strip for his sixth straight victory in a row, we were swept up by the thick wave of fans and deposited at Jonathan Page’s post-race party. There we ran into Dan and Mandi again for more Amerikaanse -speak. It was the first time I saw JP’s wife Cori in about a year. Seeing her again reminded me of the first time I met her. Many years ago, I showed up at a restaurant to meet Jonathan, Cori and VeloNews’ Charles Pelkey the night before a World Cup. Only I was three hours late, showing up looking like a wet rat - red eyes, tear-drenched face and hair. It was my first time in Europe AND my first time trying to drive a stick shift so it took me three hours to drive what should have been ten minutes away - on the same road as my hotel actually.

That night Cori and Jonathan drove me and my car back down the block. The next morning Cori jogged to my hotel to take me and my car to the race. To top it off, Jonathan lent me a spare bike for the pits. Somehow I managed to come in 10th that day. It never would have been possible without them. (On a side note, did you know that Cori won Koppenbergcross many years ago?)

While I was telling this story to a collection of folks at JP’s party, a man walked up to me, gave me a kiss and walked away. I love Belgium. I suppose if we were in France that would have turned into as much as three kisses as France’s kissing etiquette varies from one to three kisses per greeting!

Our little gathering was next to Jonathan’s bikes which were decked out with the latest and coolest stuff, like the Edge handlebars that come with their own built-in bar end plugs and the non-slip handlebar tape, to name a few. I did find out that his bar tape comes from Belgium’s VDB Parts - the makers of my Zannata bikes. Maybe within the next few races I’ll be using it too. Feeling his tires, it seems he ran about the same pressure as I did, about 1.6 bar. He ran full mud tires for the race, front and rear, but towards the end of the race, when the course was drying up a bit, he switched bikes in the pit so he’d have a front mud and rear Challenge Grifo 32.

To finish up the evening, we first sat in the usual race traffic for thirty minutes to travel two kilometers to the roundabout in Oudenaarde, then drove to Jonas’ parents house on the way home for homemade ballekes (soy meatballs) in tomato sauce, fries, broccoli soup, salad and soy ice cream with caramel sauce.

The next big race is Nommay World Cup in France on November 8th and I am already jonesing for another fix of dancing on the pedals! Thanks for reading.


Friday, October 23, 2009

Nacht Van Woerden - night cx race in Holland

My race report on Nacht Van Woerden was just published in CYCLOCROSS Magazine.
CLICK HERE to check it out.

It is also below - minus a few photos and crucial links.

Night Racing in Holland - a Report by Christine Vardaros

October 22nd, 2009 Filed Under rider diary
Christine Vardaros at Nacht van Woerden. © Bart Hazen

If I could describe racing at night in one word, it would be WOOO-HOOO! OK, well maybe that is technically two words but it just can’t be summed up in one. I suppose unreal or surreal can cover it too.

According to the TomTom GPS, which almost every single Belgian uses to navigate through the small roads in Europe, Nacht van Woerden (Night of Woerden - which is a little town in Holland) was two hours away. But to get there, we had to cross the Antwerpen ring. The traffic is so bad there that they are proposing to build a bridge or tunnel through the whole city to alleviate delays of up to two hours during rush hour. With that said, we left at 2:30pm for a race that starts way past dinner time at 8:45pm. The men raced at 9:45 which is bedtime for most of these athletes. We arrived at almost 5pm, jumped immediately onto the course and did a few rounds before the start of the first race - amateurs and masters at 6:20pm.

While pre-riding, I worked on memorizing every bump, root, the best lines for the off-camber sections - basically anything that can slow me down or possibly knock me off my bike. But once the lights go out, I quickly found that all those memorized little things no longer mattered. Your only focus is to stay between the course linings. I bet if this race were run in the daytime the speeds would be lower. The most dangerous part of the whole event was actually riding to the course and back, weaving through invisible cyclists and spectators. I think I had about four near misses. Jonas walked around with a mini handlebar blinker attached to the zipper of his jacket. Smart guy! Maybe that’s why I married him.

As for the gist of the course, it was a twisty, turny maze. Every few seconds you were slowing down for a tight u-turn in dusty corners and powering out of them. It reminded me a lot of San Francisco Bay Area courses. I had so much fun riding it that I had a tough time wiping the stupid grin off my face. I managed a few times to mask my excitement as I passed the swarms of camera flashes. You can always figure out the location of other riders based on the bursts of light along the course.

This was World Champion Marianne Vos’ first cross race of the season and she rocked it! The only two riders who could stay anywhere in her vicinity were Holland’s Sanne Van Paassen and England’s Helen Wyman who races for Kona. They finished respectively twelve and thirty seconds behind the young sweetheart of cross!

Another amazing performance was put on by Holland’s Reza Hormes-Ravenstijn who, in her first race back after two broken ribs, placed seventh - just ahead of Belgian Champion Joyce Vanderbeken. My result well into the teens was not satisfactory but I felt better than I did even a week ago which gives me a positive feeling. On the upside, I did win 6€ which felt like a lot after Helen told me she won a whopping 25€ for third place. Maybe we both should have gone to Ohio’s UCI3 Festival?

After the race, Helen’s third backup bike was left at our van for safekeeping so naturally I lifted it. What a light bike, especially considering its’ size since Helen is one of the few women who are taller than I. Once she picked up her bike, Jonas and I headed out to watch the men. When we arrived, unsurprisingly we saw Sven Nys in the lead. But what did shock us a little was to see Gerben de Knegt on his wheel. They had a nice gap over a group of six chasers including Holland’s Thijs Al - winner of ‘08 Zolder World Cup, Holland’s up-and-comer Eddy Van Ijzendoorn, Poland’s Mariusz Gil, Jonathan Page, Erwin Vervecken, and Belgian National Champion (elite w/o contract) Ben Berden. Crossing the line, Sven came first with five seconds over de Knegt. He dropped him through a technical section on the last lap. In post-race interviews, Nys said that he immediately realized he was the strongest on the day but kept de Knegt with him because it wasn’t a good idea to ride alone on a course like that. Thirty seconds later came the chase group, finishing in a sprint in the order above. (Check for full reports and photos.)

The next race on my schedule is the infamous Koppenbergcross, held in Oudenaarde where, as of this year, the women get to ride the legendary cobbles of the Koppenberg. For those of you who have never set tire on this climb, it is a bitch to ascend. Even when dry, which almost never happens for race day. But the crowds are not hanging around the cobbles. Instead they are lining the treacherous descent which turns into a greasy slip-and-slide when wet. Last year, I think almost every male fell somewhere in the race. The most famous of the crashes happened on the last lap (check CX Mag link above to view a video) where Nys was being tailed by Boom. Both fell but neither one was privy to the other guy’s misfortune since there was a bend in the trail separating the two. They only found out after the race while watching the TV in the podium changing room. (check CX Mag link above to view last year’s report and video.)

Keep tuned to Cyclocross Magazine’s website over the next days. I am about to submit an in-depth behind-the-scenes story on the Koppenbergcross race. What a story it is!

As always, thanks for reading!

Friday, October 16, 2009

Wanna know the secret to my fair skin?

Doc Martin's of Maui Sunblock. The stuff smells like you are literally on a beach in Maui!
You can read the press release HERE on CYCLOCROSS Mag.

As for the racing, it looks like we are going to have some real cyclocross racing here in belgium for a while since the weather turned for the worse - hard rain and heavy winds. (BTW, i use Doc Martin's for windblock too!)

Two Races Down, Five Months To Go...update on CYCLOCROSS Mag

My race update was just published on CYCLOCROSS Magazine. CLICK HERE to check it out.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Good News For Women in Cyclocross

Golazo Sports Elevates Women’s Cyclocross in Belgium

October 14th, 2009 Filed Under cyclocross news in

This ‘cross season, Golazo Sports, organizer of the GVA Trofee, Fidea Jaarmaarktcross of Niel, and International Cyclocross Tervuren again elevated women’s competition opportunities in Belgium, the heart of cyclocross. As of this week, they added another one of their events to the UCI Women’s calendar. It is the race in Niel to be held November 11. This makes two new events this year for women (the other was Namur), organized by Golazo, totaling seven of their ten top competition events. As a major race series in European ‘cross, they are setting the tone for other organizers to step it up for women’s racing.

“Women should be treated equal to men in all sports. In tennis, athletics, gymnastics, etc., women’s competition should be on the same level in terms of media and spectator interest,” said Christophe Impens, Managing Director of Golazo. Adding, “It is my hope that one day women cyclocross racers will become as popular as their male collegues.”

When asked how he plans to equalize the sexes in ‘cross, Impens explained, “By giving women more competition opportunities, we think that the spectators will have more appreciation for women’s cyclocross. Top races like Niel and Tervuren will also increase the media interest. And once media interest increases, the financial rewards for female riders will increase.”

Next summer, Golazo sports is taking their women’s advancement protocol to the mountain bike scene by organizing five UCI mountain bike events in Belgium - all with women’s races.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Citadel Namen - GVA Trofee's First Round

What a gas!  I have never done a cross race quite like that! It was so incredibly heavy but a whole lot of fun! I pre-rode the course the day before the race and it was fast but not too tricky, rather straightforward in fact. But after an evening of rain, the course turned to greasy mud. 

Mud tires would have been key, would have loved to mount the Challenge Fango's on a wheelset but no such luck. Four wheelsets of mine are hanging out in Belgian Customs.  And it appears they are on their way back to USA this monday.  Bummer.  With this said, what i had to use for the race were old carbon wheels that dont have any breaking surface when wet. On the first lap, just after i cleared the steepest descent, i couldnt slow down and hit the next descent super hot, rode slightly off the well traveled course and slid on a wet root. BAM, catapulted to the ground. Luckily I wasnt seriously injured, although some girls came close to running over my head.

After my encounter with the muddy ground, I slowly made some ground to finish in 17th place, slowly being the key word. I crawled down the descents and gave it everything on the uphill and pavement.  After the race, I immediately felt like a rockstar when i saw there was a mini collection of folks waiting for me.  Nancy Farzan from California, her friend Yves, and Julie were among them.  It was fun to speak english although i dont think i was too fluent.  After being in Belgium for so long, I've gotten into the habit of speaking slowly and clearly, choosing words that can be easily understood by anyone who speaks english as a second or third language. I bet Nancy must have thought i hit my head during the race.  Thankfully my head was indeed spared this time around!

After slipping out of my muddy one-piece, drinking my recovery shake and riding the trainer a bit, we checked out the men's event.  It was amazing to see how fast these guys take the tricky descents. 

For those of you who are JP fans, he kicked ass! He rode top ten for most of the race before slipping back into 13th.   I was especially excited to see Sven Nys get his legs back so soon after dropping out of the Treviso World Cup the week previous.  And today, in Ruddervorde Superprestige, he WON!!!  He started near the back of the field due to low UCI points, climbed back up to the front, bridged to World Champ Niels Albert, then rode away from him. The fans went crazy! I must admit I screamed at the TV screen a few times.

Friday, October 9, 2009

GVA Trofee's Citadelle de Namur Creates a Stir

I just wrote an article on the GVA Trofee's season opener event to be held this Saturday in Namen, the French-speaking part of Belgium. 
CLICK HERE for the story published on CYCLOCROSS Magazine.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Wanna Know What Erwin Vervecken is Thinking?

I interviewed him before the start of the season to find out his thoughts on his last season of cyclocross racing. The intro for my interview was written by John Parbst where he talks about his own personal connection with Vervecken.     CLICK HERE to read it.